Fangirls review

Theatre, Musicals
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
 (Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
1/9
Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre
 (Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
2/9
Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre
 (Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
3/9
Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre
 (Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
4/9
Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre
 (Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
5/9
Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre
 (Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
6/9
Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre
 (Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
7/9
Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre
 (Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
8/9
Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre
 (Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre)
9/9
Photograph: Brett Boardman / Belvoir St Theatre

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Pop superfans are celebrated in Belvoir's sparkly musical about a young girl and her obsession

There’s a whole lot of joyful noise at Belvoir right now. Fangirls, a new Australian musical by Yve Blake, is an ode to the agony and ecstasy of teen longing – the feeling of loving so much you might actually, literally, die. And what better lens to view this feeling than through the love for a boy band heartthrob? 

Edna (played by Blake) is obsessed with Harry from True Connection (Aydan, who made waves on The Voice). He takes lead vocals on all the group’s best songs and has the best hair (though they all have great hair). Edna's friendships – both IRL and online – are constructed in large part by their big, swoony, celebrity crushes.

Edna is having a bit of a tough time as the scholarship kid in a school full of rich kids and a mum that just doesn’t understand, and she feels a kinship with the unreachable Harry, who surely also feels trapped in his life. She’s sure that, if you pause concert videos at the right timestamp, you can see a real sadness in his eyes. If only they could run away together – an impossible notion, perhaps, but not in fanfiction, which Edna writes and shares online.

But when True Connection announces an Australian tour, everything changes. What if Edna can make her fic come true? 

Fangirls is operating on two main narrative threads: the first is this story of Edna, her mother (Sharon Millerchip), and her complicated friendships with Brianna (Kimberly Hodgson) and Jules (Chika Ikogwe) – plus her world of fan community (best represented by James Majoos’ Saltypringl, a friend who lives halfway across the world). That online community onstage gives us plenty of references to fandom spaces, from conspiracies about band management covering up gay relationships to confessional YouTubes and callouts to look after each other. 

The second is the conceptual thread that runs through the plot and deepens it: it asks why young people – mostly girls and queer people – are dismissed as ‘silly’ for loving the bands and brands that are marketed explicitly to them for this purpose; why their emotions are ridiculed when sports fans, for example, are encouraged to yell at the tennis onscreen or shed a tear over a grand final result. This thread demands respect for these formative and necessary emotional experiences, and the very real closeness and loss that can come with it. To give girls and queer kids the space to love and own their interests.

These two threads don’t quite sit in tandem with each other, and it’s the single fault line that holds Fangirls back from dizzying euphoria. The conceptual thread emerges too late in the second act for it to hit us hard; more work exploring these specific stakes in the first act as part of the musical’s essential worldbuilding would go a long way to shoring up the show’s denouement. Edna’s eleven o’clock number ‘Silly Little Girl’ is the clearest distillation of why fandom might matter so much to her, and you can’t help but wish we’d heard a version of it earlier; it would help us go on the journey of the show with her, rather than at a slight distance.

Because you want to surrender to Fangirls, lovingly directed by Paige Rattray. You want to be all in, just like Edna and her friends. And there’s so much to love. The score (by Blake, with music production by David Muratore) is all hot beats and finger-on-the-pulse pop, musically directed into dynamite by Alice Chance. The score doubles back and builds on itself with frequent reprise and motif – perhaps a little too much reprise – but it does create a shared musical language in the room between show and audience; we feel like we know this brand new music. The cast is stacked with secret weapons – Millerchip grounds the action as the adult in the room, and the ensemble, which also includes Ayesha Madon and Melissa Russo, is the future of musical theatre we need and deserve: big voices, sharp instincts and killer magnetism. We should remember their names.

Elementally, it feels like signing in to hang with your fannish friends, particularly with its projection-based design by David Fleischer (and video content design and production by Justin Harrison): as fandom evolves online it becomes increasingly multimodal, and this design captures the multi-layered language and imagery of fan culture, referencing everything from animated text gifs to cover videos and gently sexy boy band tableaux.

It all pairs well with Leonard Mickelo’s choreography, which is character driven and stacked with pop references, but always presented with a knowing hint of recreation – these moves, marketed to and then performed by teens, read a bit ridiculous in their bodies on purpose.

But it all turns on Edna, and Blake is dazzling here; you can’t help but fall in love with her. Edna is one of those rare teens onstage – she feels like a teen. Lovingly, but not uncritically constructed, we see her ambition and impatience alongside her wit, imagination and truly impressive but totally relatable ability to study and cross reference fan ephemera well beyond the information on any Wikipedia page. 

With tighter dramaturgical massaging – with that grounded second thread tightly in place from the jump – Fangirls could be unstoppable. As it stands now, it’s a treat: it’s taxonomy of teen obsession, it’s a glimpse behind the perpetually-closed door of teen becoming and you’re probably going to have some trouble getting the melodies out of your head. Fangirls understands pop in that way: it’s about good hooks and big feelings, and best enjoyed with friends.

By: Cassie Tongue

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